China’s One (Now Two) Child Policy Turns 39: Abandoned Widows, the Invisible Victims

“Mrs. Wang” is a ninety-two year old widow. Her husband passed away fifty-four years ago. Her feet were bound when she was a child, and she suffers from various illnesses, so she cannot walk well.  

Mrs. Wang raised four children.  Her two daughters married and moved away.  She feels that they don’t want to be close to her, because she is so needy and can never give them anything back in return.  Her first son died.  Her second son has a disabling condition known as fibroplasia.

Although they don’t have much to eat, Mrs. Wang says she is happy that she is still alive, to cook for her second son, who lives with her. She cannot imagine how her son will be able to live without her when she passes away.  She appreciates the encouragement and financial help from our “Save a Widow” Campaign, and is amazed that people from the other side of the earth would come to help her, not asking for anything in return.

This week marks the 39thanniversary of China’s One-Child (now Two-Child) Policy, the most massive social experiment in human history, responsible for hundreds of millions of forced abortions and sterilizations.  Forced abortion continues under the Two-Child Policy, as third children remain illegal. A woman from Xinjiang, for example, was forcibly aborted of her third child in 2018, according to an NPR report.

Coercive population control in China has also led to the sex-selective abortion of tens of millions of baby girls.  These statistics are as well known as they are tragic.  

Relatively unknown, however, is another enormous demographic group virtually ignored thus far: the elderly, especially widows. To address this, Women’s Rights Without Frontiers launched our Save a Widow Campaign.

WATCH our new video on Saving Widows in China:

China’s current elderly population is 241 million, 17.3 % of the nation’s total population, and rising.  China’s elderly population is set to peak at nearly half a billion, or 35% of the total population, in 2050.  

Sadly, senior suicide is on the rise.  According to a report in the China Daily — a Chinese government–affiliated English language news outlet — the suicide rate of rural Chinese elderly has increased 500% in the past two decades, from 100 to 500 per 100,000.  An abstract in The Lancet stated, “ On average, mortality from suicide in Chinese people aged 65-85 was 2.75-7.08 times that of the general population.”  According to sociologist Liu Yanwu, who studied the issue for six years, “. . . I was more shocked by the lack of concern in villages where the elderly commit suicide . . . It seems that death is nothing to fear, and suicide is a normal, even a happy end.”

In the past, elders were venerated and cared for by their children and grandchildren. “Filial piety was valued in old China, but many elderly people in rural areas can no longer depend on their children as a result of the great economic and social changes over the past three decades,” continues Liu, “and the pension system fails to compensate . . . In China, farmers are vulnerable, and old farmers are the most vulnerable.”

Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, stated, “the studies show that the elderly, especially elderly widows who traditionally have depended on their children to support them in old age, are becoming destitute and so desperate that they are committing suicide.  They are the invisible victims of the demographic disaster caused by the One Child Policy and are in urgent need of help.  For this reason, we launched our Save a Widow Campaign.  We have boots on the ground inside of China, restoring the dignity and giving practical support to abandoned, destitute widows in China to show them someone cares.

“One of the widows we are helping is Mrs. Wang, whose story is recounted at the beginning of this article.  Our fieldworker went to her door and encouraged her, saying that we will give her a monthly stipend to help her and her son eat, and to give them dignity and hope.”  

To learn more about the Save a Widow Campaign, click here.

To learn more about the Save a Girl Campaign, click here.

Related Links

Injury and Suicide in People Aged 60 years and over in China, An Analysis of Nationwide Data

Isolated and Abandoned:  The Heartbreaking Reality of Old Age in Rural China

‘They Ordered Me to Get an Abortion’:  A Chinese Woman’s Ordeal in Xinjiang

Can China Afford Rapid Aging?

Suicide Among Elderly Increases

China’s Elderly Population to Peak at Half a Billion in 2050

China’s Elderly Population Continues to Rise, With 241 Million Now Over 60

Save a Widow Campaign

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